Every time I open a book I smile.

I remember.  As a child who was just beginning to learn to read, my favorite time was spent sitting on my grandpa’s lap and “teaching” him how to sound out the squiggly lines on the pages.

He would laugh and hug me as I sternly scolded him and got him to sound out the words as I was learning to do in school.  Together we made it through several adventures of Dick and Jane and Spot.

Papa, I suspect, was severely dyslexic.  He could sign his name, but he never learned to read – in English, anyway.

I think those times when he would sit still and let his baby girl “teach” him from her primer books probably set the foundation for my love of books and word-play.


In his book, SMART THINKING: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate and Get Things Done, author Art Markman says that the cornerstone of medical education is, “See one.  Do one.  Teach one.”

When medical students are learning a new procedure, the first thing they do is watch someone who knows how to do it carry out the procedure.  This gives them a general idea of how the thing is done.

The student will then practice the new procedure until he or she can carry it out.  Doing it helps the student understand the various elements and techniques involved that aren’t apparent from just watching someone else do the procedure.

After that, the student is encouraged to teach this procedure to someone else.  This helps the student see whether he or she has enough knowledge of the procedure to show someone else how it is done as well as explain, in a simple, understandable way, why the procedure is useful.

As Albert Einstein famously pointed out, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

I found it interesting that these same principles are also used by tradespeople, craftsmen, artists, performers and cooks to pass along their specialized knowledge as well.

“Discover the Possibilities” by Georgie Pauwels via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]


Markman points out that in order to teach somebody else you do need to form a complete and organized, easily-understood explanation of what you’re trying to teach.

It’s like writing down a recipe for making muffins.  Stirring the liquid ingredients into a mound of dry ingredients works a heck of a lot better than vice-versa. It’s a good and helpful thing to mention that to someone making muffins for the first time.

If your attempted explanations confuse your student, it’s probable that you need to work on filling in the gaps in your own knowledge.

  • Perhaps the student doesn’t understand the words you are using. Do you?  Are there other more common words or alternative ways of explaining that you can use instead?
  • Perhaps the student needs more information than you are giving them. Take it back down to a more basic level.  Find out what the student knows and does not know and start from there.
  • Maybe the way you’ve organized and presented the information confuses the student. How can you make the steps easier to follow?  Are some of the important steps in a procedure missing in your attempted explanation?  Are they in the right order?

In 2009, Columbia University professor Simon Sinek was interviewed by Erik Michielsen, founder of Capture Your Flag, a virtual mentoring platform.  The following YouTube Video, “How Teaching Others Build Your Knowledge” is a snippet published around that time.

In it, Sinek says, “Teaching forces you…to break down your knowledge into components that give you a deeper understanding of your own knowledge.”


Interestingly, researchers have found that students who thought they were going to be tutoring or teaching others worked harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately, and apply it more effectively.

The guys in the lab coats dubbed this “the protégé effect.”  If we are going to teach somebody else, then we know we need to pay attention to the most important, relevant points and organize them in our minds so that we can present them in a coherent, understandable way.  This way of “relational learning” happened even if, ultimately, the students were not actually required to teach someone else.

This YouTube video, “Why Teaching Others Is the Best Way to Learn” published in 2013 by Art of Smart TV features resident nerd Rowan Kunz explaining the value of teaching others in order to get feedback about your own level of knowledge.

Art of Smart describes itself as a “movement that is changing the world through a new kind of holistic tutoring and mentoring for young people.”

An important point Kunz makes is the one about repetition.  Every time you go back over the material you are teaching someone else, trying to help the other person make sense of it, the knowledge gets embedded more clearly and more deeply into your own mind.

It all helps your brain build neurotransmitter pathways that help you access the information in your head.  Cool stuff!  Perhaps, by teaching (or planning to teach someone else) you’ll find other ways to widen and deepen the knowledge you hold.


There are more than one way to teach.  Some of them don’t use words.

The following YouTube video published by Fred Then in 2014, “Learning By Doing and Not Teaching” dramatizes one little Thai girl’s lessons from her mother, a vendor selling fresh fruits from a trolley at a market in Petchburi province.

The girl, Achara Poonsawat (also known as “Nin”), won a scholarship from the Sarnrak Project that allowed her to complete a Bachelor’s Degree program and become an elementary school teacher.

Nin’s mother’s methods of teaching were not academic since she was herself unschooled.  However, they were based on real-life fact-finding.  Nin’s mother encouraged the girl to observe what others did, analyze why their methods worked and try the methods for herself.

Sarnrak Konkeng Huajai Krang (Good Kids, Good Hearts) is an initiative operated since 2000 by AIS, the largest mobile phone operator in Thailand.  The children targeted by the initiative are “underprivileged children who demonstrate love and close tie to their families.”

While the scholarship recipients go to school, their families receive financial aid from Sarnrak as well since that allows the youngsters to attend school without worrying about having to help support their family.

Here’s a poem….


Papa sits on the gray-green sand.

His skin is leathered by the sun.

Jewel drops of water sparkle in the darkness of his hair.

White salt traces down his arms, his back, his chest.

His rough, brown hands weave the shuttle delicately.

Like a bird, it flies intricate patterns over and through,

As the net grows whole.


Papa talks about the fish the net and he have captured.

It is a strong net, his best net.

Not even a big uhu could escape it.

Manini and weke they have caught by the score.

He snagged it on some rocks and it was wounded,

Torn upon the cruel, black pōhaku.

He mourns the jagged tears as his hands deftly flutter,

As the net grows whole.


Papa argues with a friend, things fishermen argue.

He swaps lies about the ones he and his net “almost,

And he brags about the ones that didn’t get away.

His eyes twinkle when he shows his teeth in laughter.

They shine in amusement at the whoppers and the toppers

And the ones that flop,

And his hands – his rough, brown hands – keep on flying,

As the net grows whole.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Teach Me” by Giovanna Matarazzo via Flickr [CC BY-NC]



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you…)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.


  1. Hi Netta,

    I like your point that you pulled from Einstein. It’s true that if you cannot explain something simply then you may not really have a firm grasp on it. This reminds me of trying to explain condensation to my 8 year old. I realized quick that I needed a refresher myself in order to break it down to her level.


    1. Hey Jay:

      Thanks for your visit and for the example.  It’s amazing how humbling it is to try to explain something you think you know to a curious child!

      Please do come again….

  2. Courteney says:

    I understand what you are saying, I always find I learn best and am able to explain things better when I have had a relatable experience to what I am trying to describe.
    Understanding anything on a more personal level makes things much easier to understand.
    Thanks for putting this out there.

    1. Hey Courteney:

      Thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please come again….

  3. Hi Netta,

    I really enjoyed reading your article about teaching someone to learn better. I had not heard of “See one.  Do one.  Teach one.”, but I think this is a great way to teach and at the same time to learn. 

    I really enjoyed your poem at the end of the article. Thanks again for an informative read. Regards, Andrew.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Andrew.  I do appreciate it.

      Please come again.

  4. Hello Netta, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us, I definitely learned something new today. 

    May I ask you for your permission to share this post on my Twitter profile? I am sure many people will benefit from this. Can’t wait to see more of you!

    1. Danijel, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  Of course, you can share the post as you like.

      Please do come again.

  5. CJ Greene says:

    I loved this. It’s very interesting to think about the psychology and science behind learning. It’s very true that I find I often learn things even better when I’m teaching someone.

    There’s a fun video I saw the other day of a father getting his children to write up instructions on how to make a peanut butter sandwich. He uses their instructions literally and ends up with a mess. They continue revising their instructions over and over until he produces a sandwich.

    It makes you think about breaking down the process and how different people understand instructions differently. It’s a good watch. 🙂

    1. CJ, thanks for the visit and for sharing the story about the dad making a peanut butter sandwich according to written instructions by his children.  It really is not so easy organizing your thoughts about a very simple process and then writing instructions that actually help another person go through the process and end up with a recognizable product.  

      I think that’s a great exercise to try — with children or even on your own.  (The test, of course, will be when somebody tries to follow your instructions.  Hee!)

      Please do come again.

  6. Nate Stone says:

    Hey Netta, 

    Good article. I remember when I was in school, my GCSE English teacher would get us to learn something and then we’d have to explain it back to a partner. 

    I guess that fits in line with the methodology that you noted. That always worked pretty effectively for me and my class mates, now I think about it its a tack I’ll take with my son.  Thanks for sharing and reminding me of this.

    1. Nate, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad the post was helpful to you.

      Please come again.

  7. Hi! This is such a useful post. 

    I have always had a special vocation for explaining to others the little things I know. Back in high school I remember all these girls and boys crowding around me to hear the explanations. 

    I even remembered occasions when being 1 on 1, doubting if it was a waste of time because sometimes those that asked me to explain to them a certain subject, never did well. 

    But early on in life, I discover the tremendous benefits that teaching others has. I fully agree with your post!

    1. Ann, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad the post resonated with you.  

      Please do come again.

  8. I had never heard “SEE ONE.  DO ONE. TEACH ONE.” before today, but when I think about it that is exactly what we do as people for the next generation. ( Or at least we should!) That is definitely going to stay with me! 

    I usually say I am a visual learner but now I am going to say I need to see one, do one, and then teach one. It makes so much more sense!

    Nin’s story is very inspiring! Thanks for passing it on!

    1. Brianna, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I agree!

      Please do come again.

  9. vrobson3650 says:

    What an informative post!  It makes so much sense, I will now look at learning in a different way.  I will learn so that I can teach it.  

    Tony Robbins say the same thing in his seminars, but seeing it again has made it sink in.  Sometimes the first time you read or hear something you don’t take it in.  Thanks for putting it in a different way that resonated with me.

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, vrobson3650.  I am so glad the post resonated with you.

      You’re very right.  Often it takes several encounters with a new idea before the thing actually sinks in and starts making sense.

      Please do come again.  

  10. I have made exactly this experience myself. I think the absolute best way to learn something is to prepare to teach it and then to teach it. But I also agree that it is very important to gain an understanding of what your students already know and what they do not know. Then you will know the foundation on which you can build the new knowledge. 

    The other aspect to consider is that different people have different learning skills and aptitudes. Some people are visual learners, some are auditory learners and some are tactile learners. I know for myself that if I want to learn something well, I have to see visual representations, read a text about it, and write about it myself, preferably taking summary notes or better draw a mindmap. 

    I remember the advice of a lecturer at college. That was to summarize every lecture onto a single page by hand in the last 10 minutes of the hour-long lecture. And then one day later copy out the one page onto another page, tidying it up. Then one week later summarize the tidy page onto a single index card also by hand. Then a month later review the index card. By that time you will have committed to memory.

    1. Welcome back, Andy.  That learning hack is awesome!  Thanks for sharing it.  

      Please come again….

  11. J W RIDDELL says:

    I found the article very insightful, and firstly this post on teaching was hard worked to understand the material by students who felt that they would tutor or teach others. 

    Secondly, this website, Life Built Poems, is a new go-to for deep thought and philosophical questions like happiness. I really enjoy how all articles laid out, with many different subjects to choose from that speak to me on my deepest levels of thinking. 

    This passage was pulled by myself because it speaks directly about what lies beneath our facade–about who we truly are at heart in contrast with who others see us as being based on their own perceptions, which have been shaped through past experiences together or outside contexts without regard for your best interests in mind.

    Thank you, Life Built Poems!

    1. J W, I am so pleased that the blog speaks to you.  YAY!  I’m doin’ my job right!

      Please do come again!

  12. Sean Sorath says:

    That’s a great article and I absolutely agree with what you stimulated in the article. I have experience as a teacher. When I teach my students in the classes, I feel all lessons I have taught make me better at understanding because I do more research and take a role-play before teaching.

    That’s why the more we teach and shape more knowledge the more we can bring more understanding for the lesson that we practice. 

    Again, Thanks for your sharing the useful article and your great Ideas.

    1. I do think you are right, Sean.  Teaching other people helps to refine your own learning enormously.  You have to understand what you are trying to teach them, so you learn even more.  It’s a really cool thing.

      Please do come again.

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